The Fall of the House of Dixie:
How the Civil War Remade the American South

Bruce Levine
Random House, 2013, 464 pp., $30.00

Review by Gordon Berg

Accolades come easily for Bruce Levine's latest book.  His research is exhaustive, his arguments erudite, his anecdotes illuminating, and his prose crystalline.  The result is an exemplary work of historical synthesis, tracing “the origins and development of America's 'second revolution.'”     

Levine sets antebellum Southern society firmly on the shoulders of slavery.  His spokespeople, many of them elite Southern women, describe a system they deemed benevolent, permanent, ordained by God, and sustained by economic necessity.  But the social and political fissures that brought down the House of Dixie, Levine argues, existed throughout the antebellum years because they were part and parcel of the region's economy and culture.

Sustaining a long and bloody conflict stressed these fissures to the breaking point.  “A war launched to preserve slavery,” Levine observes, “succeeded instead in abolishing that institution more rapidly and more radically than would have occurred otherwise.”

Southern elites failed to understand the indomitable spirit of their slaves, determined to achieve freedom for themselves.  As the war dragged on, white supremacy and a rigid caste system led non-slave holding and poor whites to question why they were fighting to sustain a planter aristocracy of privilege and pride.  And the doctrine of states rights insured that the parochial interests of the individual states regularly trumped the collective needs of the Confederate nation. 

The evolution of Union war policy also contributed to Dixie's fall.  Levine traces Lincoln's conservative social and military war aims that evolved into a revolutionary policy to liberate and emancipate America's slaves   The Emancipation Proclamation, issued as a war measure, allowed former slaves and free blacks to fight in the Union Army.  Northern soldiers would now carry the promise of freedom and citizenship in their knapsacks.  Many Northerners also changed their understanding of the war, believing that only by destroying slavery could a new, more perfect, Union be created and preserved.
Was it worth all the spilled blood and expended treasure?  Levine uses the words of Frederick Douglas who wrote “The world has not seen a nobler and grander war.”  Those who fought to bring down the House of Dixie, Douglas proclaimed, were “writing the statutes of eternal justice and liberty in the blood of the worst tyrants as a warning to all aftercomers.”

Gordon Berg is a past President and member of the Civil War Round Table of the District of Columbia (  His reviews and articles appear in the Civil War Times and America's Civil War, among other publications.

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